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Univ. of California Reverses Itself & Gives Tenure to Leading Biotech Critic Ignacio Chapela

Ignacio Chapela Granted Tenure at UC Berkeley!

A message from Prof. Ignacio Chapela:

Berkeley. Wednesday, 18 May 2005.

Dear friends, dear colleagues, An announcement I am proud to contact you with extraordinary news. Yesterday afternoon, the Dean of the College of Natural Resources at Berkeley communicated to me the intention of our new Chancellor to grant tenure to my position at Berkeley.

This decision is a clear message of vindication not only of myself, but also of the innumerable individual and collective efforts put into this process by all of you. You have generously added your voices to the many questions raised around my tenure review and demanded a process free of conflict of interest or undue influence, and for this I am thankful. I foresee no official recognition of your presence, but you should know that it was precisely that which in the end achieved this result.

As happened two years ago, when I received an important communication once I had decided to bring my office out into the street in front of California Hall, the tenure decision reached me while in the midst of another street intervention seeking to cast public light upon the newest incarnation of the bioengineering edifice. A small number of us have been using our bicycles all week to circulate messages about the hull of the bioengineering building on the Berkeley campus, which will soon reach completion (see

The cycling has been difficult at times, not least because of highly unseasonable rain in Berkeley, but this has not stopped us from continuing to be present, in the measure that we can, to represent our positions in the face of the biotech dream. We will continue with this event, now in the light of the news about my tenure. Please come to celebrate and maintain the questioning with us.

Whither my biology

The tenure decision has come in a manner to be expected: during one of the quietest weeks on campus. The significance and implications of this news is only slowly seeping into my consciousness, since I find myself once again in a state of exhaustion while performing in a physically strenuous street intervention.

So it is that I will need some time fully to grasp the new situation, to consider what this decision brings as options, and to restructure my personal and professional life around them. Nevertheless, I must admit to a deep concern that the rare privilege of a tenured position in such a university as UC Berkeley may become a muzzle. I am very aware that becoming a vested member in the club of the tenured could cause me to measure my words and thoughts more carefully. I have seen it happen, as I have also watched the glint in the eye of colleagues dim, as they fitted themselves to the academic cloth. But I have also seen the sharpness undulled in those few among our large number who have maintained a critical and uncompromising engagement with the real, an engagement that is the straw in the shoe reminding them of the privilege granted them through tenure by the generosity of the public, and not by pomp and ritual, nor by autocratic decision, nor by presumed birthright.

I know of no other case where the public's role in the conferring of tenure has been more evident. There is no doubt in my mind that I owe this tenure to you, as well as to others beyond yourselves who, without knowing, have been prodigal in support of a place to think and speak freely. I trust that you, and those who will come in your wake, will help me bear the burden of responsibility to public service that tenure in this university entails. No doubt I will need your support now more than ever.

Tenure should not stop our questioning - yours and mine - any more than rain has stopped our circulation of meaning around and about the bioengineering edifice this week. Please come to any of the three remaining cycling events, or to the gathering on Friday evening, to